Thursday, October 6, 2011

On the question of higher hydrogens

Readers who recall Gurdjieff's remarks to Ouspensky as recounted in In Search of the Miraculous will recall that he said the following:

“This means that to proceed with any further study we must find the exact purpose of each 'hydrogen,' that is to say, each 'hydrogen' must be defined chemically, psychologically, physiologically, and anatomically, in other words, it's functions, its place in the human organism, and, if possible the peculiar sensations connected with it must be defined."

--In Search of the Miraculous, P. D. Ouspensky, Paul H. Crompton Ltd. 2004, P. 191-192

To the best of my knowledge, no one out there has ever actually engaged in this activity: I've never seen much of anything written about it, and of the matter is rarely discussed in today's world, highly technical approaches to Gurdjieff's work having largely fallen out of favor. Nonetheless, it presents some interesting possibilities for discourse.

Most of the unusual language and specific concepts that Gurdjieff brought to his work represent higher experiences that are only produced by the presence of "hydrogens" which are not usually present in man. Some of the language that comes to mind are the following concepts:

conscious labor
intentional suffering
remorse of conscience
organic shame
the sorrow of His Endlessness

and so on. Each one of these experiences is an experience that, while it is expressed in our ordinary language, actually represents something quite different than ordinary experience, which can only be understood when it actually takes place in the organism, producing an organic result that is quite clearly of a different order than the usual organic results we use to navigate our way through life.

Each one of these particular experiences is associated with the action of a particular higher hydrogen.

When we consider the food of impressions–which is the only food that can make the production of these higher hydrogens possible–we barely stop to think about how we are actually taking impressions in. It is, in larger part, a theoretical prospect. The threads that connect the inner work all exist in us, so to speak, separately, as though they didn't need to be interwoven. That part that needs to have an attention–even a love for–how things are being taken in now is not only weak, it's dysfunctional.

The action of each of the special words that Gurdjieff chose in order to describe what are essentially religious experiences of a higher order is contingent on the way we feed ourselves, and nothing at all is possible if we don't handle that well. So this action of attending to the immediate prospect of life with an organic Love is an absolutely essential action, and the action of every other particular phrase or condition that relates to a higher principle working in the organism is dependent on how we conduct that.

One of the difficulties in discussing things like conscious labor, intentional suffering, and so one is that by using familiar words, immediately, and without any intention at all on my part, I assume I am able to “do” these things. Even if I intellectually protest that I don't think I can do such things, the whole organism is hardly signed on to that prospect. There is always a secret corner, hidden from the rest of me (but most especially everyone else!) in which I most certainly believe I can do such things. It doesn't matter how much I spout the party line at meetings or elsewhere: I'm lying. I think I can do things. I think I know what these words mean.

It is only when the light switch gets turned on, as the result of days or weeks or months of work, or of a particular moment of Grace, that an actual condition of conscious labor or remorse of conscience arises; then it becomes quite apparent that this is the action of a higher substance, and that "I" am not in charge of it.

We could generalize and say that Mr. Gurdjieff's remarks to Ouspensky on this matter, while they appear to be incredibly specific, are actually there just to indicate to us that we ought to study this question quite precisely, in order to understand that the process is physical and chemical, that it is not related to what we ordinarily understand, and that it is not under our control.

Learning to sense each of these particular sensations and emotional attitudes that arise from higher hydrogens may furthermore help us to remember them, and bring ourselves closer to an intimacy with ourselves that helps generate further possibilities.

All of these higher ' hydrogens' are without any doubt related to, if not identical with, hormones that medical science has identified and studied from a pharmacological point of view in the years since Gurdjieff first brought his work to the Western world. Substances that come to mind which are almost certainly in this category include serotonin, dopamine, and so on. Nicotine in particular is a specific analog to a higher hydrogen, underscoring the fact that many drugs people take emulate the action of these natural substances.

The difficulty, of course, is that taking drugs merely produces a result, not a state that lasts. It furthermore cripples the action of a person's internal chemistry by weakening it instead of helping it work to grow stronger and make what is needed.

If there is any transformation whatsoever available to human beings in the context of this work, it lies in this territory. A man or woman needs to understand how to taking impressions more sensitively, with all of his or her parts; to take them in with Love. He or she needs to understand that this task is actually far more important than making money or acquiring things, than looking good or having pleasurable experiences; and a loving attention needs to be paid to the parts that are doing this kind of work as it is under way.

May our prayers be heard.

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